The Evictors (1979)

NOVEMBER 30, 2010


Not too long ago, I had the displeasure of watching Cold Creek Manor, a thoroughly terrible movie that I had rented under the impression that it was a haunted house film. It wasn’t, and now I discover that in apart from being terrible, it was sort of a ripoff of The Evictors, a less terrible film from 1979 that has essentially the exact same plot of a family moving into an isolated estate only to be boringly terrorized by the previous owners. But it’s at least shorter, and stars the always welcome Jessica Harper, so it’s not as much of an annoyance as the other film.

Still though, what a snoozefest. Due to the independent nature of his projects, Charles B. Pierce has never made an action-packed movie, but tension and atmosphere are pretty much free, no? And what can be scarier than a home invasion? Pierce botches all of this though; the film is basically a drama with an occasional chase scene.

The biggest problem is that hardly anything happens to the character we care about (Harper). Instead, she just hears stories (read: sepia toned flashbacks) about things that happened to previous owners, which is about as riveting as it sounds. I don’t know these people, and you’re basically telling me they are dead right from the start, so who cares? I could see if the house was haunted and it was filling in the mystery of the place, not unlike the opening of The Haunting, but there’s nothing supernatural about the film at all.

Strangely, Pierce seemingly tries to make you THINK there is, at least for a little bit, making it seem like the house drives people to murder, possibly due to the restless spirits of the original owners, who were gunned down in the opening flashback scene. And then we get a present day murder, in which we see an axe but not the person holding it. A ghost, right? Nope, despite the mysterious presentation of this scene, the very next one shows a very human (and identifiable) person driving the truck of the guy who just got killed. So we have an instant red herring, and a total lack of mystery for the rest of the film. Cool.

To be fair, there is a bit of a twist at the end involving Vic Morrow’s slimy real estate agent (yep, real estate horror strikes again!), but it’s completely ludicrous. As he prepares to sell the house to another couple, he pulls out a pair of broken glasses, which tells us that he’s the guy at the beginning of the film who tried to evict the original owners. First of all – huh? Second of all – how bad of a real estate agent are you that you can’t afford to buy a new pair of glasses almost 30 years later?

Also baffling – why does Michael Parks (as Harper’s husband) get billing over Harper when he’s barely in the damn thing? Almost immediately after they move into the house he takes off for some work, and appears a couple of times on the other end of a phone call. Then, when he finally comes home, he gets shot 4 seconds later and later dies (off-screen) in the hospital. Granted, Parks rules, but wouldn’t (actual star) Harper, coming off of Suspiria and Phantom of the Paradise, be a bigger draw, especially since they were selling this as a horror film? Parks was mostly known for TV work at the time.

Speaking of credit-based annoyances, it’s one of those movies where they freeze frame for each credit. So you see a guy like walk up to his car, then it freezes for an associate producer credit. 10 seconds later the credit goes away, the guy will get into the car, and then it’ll freeze again for the DP. And so on. This makes the opening scene take about twice as long as it should, and annoys me right off the bat. Also, it didn’t ANNOY me, per se, but the film looked stretched vertically even though it was presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Everyone looked really thin and tall. Weird.

I hate to speak ill of the recently deceased (Pierce died last year), but did this guy ever make a good movie after Boggy Creek (which I haven’t even seen but I assume it’s good considering it had two sequels and gave him a career)? Boggy Creek II was atrocious, Town That Dreaded Sundown is pretty much the most uneven and schizophrenic movie ever made, and this is a dreadful bore. And those are his highest profile efforts post-Boggy. I mean, he’s not exactly Bill Rebane, but I sure as hell won’t be bothering to watch his other movies any time soon either.

What say you?


Sutures (2009)

NOVEMBER 29, 2010


Should I just add “Forced Organ Donor” as a sub-genre? How many goddamn times are horror movies going to go to this well? Sutures is a reasonably well made horror film, but I just sort of mentally checked out once I realized that once again our heroes were being tortured/killed for GOOD CAUSES. And that was a problem, because the last 10 minutes includes a lot of baffling and inane plot twists that I had trouble following. “What happened to my generic organ harvesting movie? What’s all this nonsense?” So I had to re-watch the last 20 minutes to try to “get” it, which I DO, now, but it’s still poorly written and clumsily revealed.

Like Captifs, our heroes are actually in the medical profession (who was first, I wonder?), and, again like Captifs, the filmmakers fail to really make any interesting ironic points about folks who have dedicated their lives to saving others being forced into this position, where they are more literally giving their lives to save others. But maybe that’s because these are young, pretty med students, not yet doctors like in Captifs, so they’re too busy flirting with one another and screwing around to bother doing anything original. There’s some minor difficulty in spotting who will be the first/last to die (apart from the obvious Final Girl), but otherwise they’re a pretty generic lot.

Luckily, the killers themselves have some minor characterization, particularly the two main baddies, one of whom is played by Andrew Prine. I wasn’t even aware he was still acting (apart from Tarantino’s episode of CSI, where he played Nick’s dad, the most recent film of his that I have seen is Amityville II), so I was quite happy to see him here, making like Lance Henriksen or Ronny Cox as a well dressed but crazy silver haired villain who runs his “only in horror movies” operation like a business. I even admired some of his techniques – he’s actually trying to make med students (not OUR med students) into great doctors by having them work under incredible duress. For example, he has one of our heroes tied up on a wall, with another guy causing massive injuries that the would-be doctor has to patch up as quickly as possible. It’s a cool little sequence.

The other big bad guy is Alexander, played by screenwriter Carlos Lauchu. Sticking with the theme of “but their intentions are noble!”, he’s actually gathering victims to be guinea pigs for some experiment designed to find a cure for the rare disease his daughter has. Aw, so sweet – why do you need to tie up random mechanics and cut them up for this, exactly? That’s the problem I have with these organ movies for the most part – if they want the organs, fine – why torture everyone? There’s a throwaway line that the people who want the organs don’t want any outside chemicals in them, I guess that’s supposed to explain away this obvious plot hole. Doesn’t quite work.

Back to the rather muddled storytelling, the entire thing is actually a flashback, as our Final Girl (the lovely Allison Lange, who just last week I was saying “I want to see her in more stuff” after she made a brief appearance in Bright Falls, a webisode prequel thing to the game Alan Wake) is telling the story to a cop, played by one of the Londons (not the one who was kidnapped and forced to shoot heroin though). And her story doesn’t even go in order, it cuts back and forth between the group on their way to their doom with the account of how she first met them. Who the fuck cares? If I want to try to keep track of three separate timelines, I’ll watch The Event, which at least offers some occasional D.B. Sweeney.

So I wasn’t too surprised to learn on the extra features that this was a mechanically designed project, with the writers wanting to do a horror movie but feeling that their existing story was too similar to other movies, so they came up with the organ donor stuff (great irony there). And of course, the movie wastes no time in clearly revealing its half-assed design, by more or less opening at the goddamn Linda Vista Hospital, a location seemingly only used by low budget horror film productions that are designed with budgets and locations in mind instead of a story. To be fair, they also go to that weird castle in the desert that was used in Alive Or Dead – at least I’m not completely sick of that place yet. Anyway, the making of is otherwise fairly worthless, as it’s just about 50 minutes of fly on the wall behind the scenes footage, with most of the interview footage (none of which features the director, interestingly) is at the beginning of the piece. Unless you love watching people work without context, just fast forward through it until you see a talking head and do something more productive with the rest of your time.

So if you haven’t seen Turistas, Train, Captifs, Macabre... um, you should (well, not Train), because they’re better than this. Again, it’s a well made film, and there are some nice touches here and there (love the hand still trapped in the cuff when they chain one guy to a wall), and Prine is a hoot, but the generic motive seems like an afterthought, and the final scenes are riddled with needless twists and a general lack of excitement.

What say you?


The Haunted Palace (1963)

NOVEMBER 28, 2010


I hated myself for watching Tales Of Terror on lowly Netflix a few weeks ago, because if I had just waited a bit longer I could have seen a beautiful 35mm print of it at the New Beverly. On the other hand, it kept me from having to “save” The Haunted Palace for another time (or worse, writing two reviews on a weekend!), so I just went for that, meeting my “quota” of going to the Bev every weekend (wasn’t interested in seeing Monster Squad, the midnight movie) and adding another Vincent Price movie to the HMAD canon.

As most fans probably know, the film has nothing to do with Poe’s tale “The Haunted Palace”, and is actually more based on HP Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”, though it’s a pretty loose adaptation of that too. In fact, I was quite surprised to learn that “Ward” was the same story that The Resurrected was based on, because that film and this one couldn’t be less alike – I would have more easily believed that Wall-E and Deliverance were based on the same source material. Basically, all Corman and co. retained from the Lovecraft tale were the names and the basic concept of resurrection, and changed everything else.

However it still definitely feels Lovecraft-ian (more than it does Poe, anyway), with the gloomy New England town (Arkham), the odd creature trapped in a cellar, and the faceless townsfolk all feeling very much like something out of one of his stories, unlike Poe’s more insular, often fairly romantic tales. The only times I thought of Poe were when the film started feeling like some of the other Corman/Poe/Price productions like Pit And The Pendulum or House Of Usher (i.e. when Price was walking around a big scary castle). Hilariously, Price recites a random Poe quote at the very end of the film, as if to justify the connection with something besides the title. Interestingly, they spell his name right at the end with the quote – it’s spelled wrong at the top of the film when it says it’s based on his story.

Price is as delightful as ever, and it made for a good double feature with Tales (or WOULD have, in my case), since this one also found him playing two roles. One is the heroic Ward, who inherits the place and plans to sell it. The other is Joseph Curwen, a necromancer (and Ward’s great great grandfather) who wishes to be resurrected. So Curwen occasionally possesses Ward, but he can only do so for brief periods of time, allowing Price to switch back and forth quite a bit. And it’s to his credits that it never becomes confusing – he’s so good you can even tell when he’s playing Curwen pretending to be Ward!

However, while I don’t mind getting more Price for my buck, they go a bit overboard with the actors playing two roles, as at least 5 guys from the prologue play their own descendents 110 years later. As I’ve said before, I really don’t care for this sort of lazy casting approach – I barely resemble my grandfathers, let alone my great great ones. It’s sort of insulting to the (by my count) 29 other people whose DNA had been passed along to me, right? Plus, the movie is a period piece anyway – the difference in costumes and “old tymey” look from the 1875 versions of these folks is not particularly distinguishable from their 1765 ancestors. Thus, if you missed the title cards telling you it’s 110 years later, the movie would be very confusing indeed. It’s one thing for say, Back To The Future to use the same actors as each generation of McFly, because so much had been done to change their basic look and the look of the world around them. Here, not so much. Would have preferred they just used different actors – it’s not like these characters (save Price) were particularly defined or even interesting anyway.

And yet, Debra Paget only plays one role! I haven’t seen too much of her (and this was her last film – she “retired” after marrying rich shortly after this film’s production), but man, what a knockout. And she holds her own with Price – not an easy task. Why the hell couldn’t they have figured out a way to have HER in the prologue? At any rate, if I was born in the 30s or 40s, she would have been the Evangeline Lilly or Rachel McAdams of her day, to me.

One thing the prologue does offer is a mob scene, momentarily making me think that the reels were out of order or something. Price (as Curwen) has a girl tied up, some magic is about to go down, and there’s an angry mob with the torches and pitchforks – pretty much the exact thing that occurs at the END of most of these movies (including this one). Once I realized it was a prologue, I truly appreciated the unusual “action-packed” opening, though I was just as pleasantly surprised to discover that the film as a whole moved faster than usual. Price and Paget aren’t in town long before they encounter a bunch of those creepy faceless types, and he starts getting possessed by Curwen not too long after that.

Ultimately, the only thing that annoyed me were the movie’s fades, though it must have been an issue with this particular print. You can almost always tell in an old movie when there’s going to be a fade, because the image becomes a bit washed out or discolored a few seconds before. But in this film, the color temperature AND image changed – it would go from a nice looking print image to something that looked like it was recorded off an analog TV signal, plus overly yellow tinted. And this movie had a lot of fades. Plus, you know when a reel changes and there’s a little jump? It seemed like every cut in the movie had such a jump (possibly just due to the number of fades and the fact that it was an older movie and thus had a lot of long takes), which was a constant distraction. I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend not seeing the film in theaters (it being an early 60s Corman production, it’s quite lovely to look at), but I hope that there are better prints floating around.

Not sure how many Corman/Poe productions I have left... I know I haven’t seen The Premature Burial or The Raven, but I’m not sure about Masque of the Red Death – I thought I did but I can’t find a review (it would have been during my HMAD ‘reign’). I know I saw Usher prior to HMAD, and I’ve seen Tomb of Ligeia but didn’t like it so I didn’t bother writing a review (it was part of a double feature at the Bev; I forget what the other movie was but I reviewed that instead). And there are reviews for Pendulum and Tales Of Terror. That’s all of them, right? Good goal to try to meet before the year’s end!

What say you?


Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre (2009)

NOVEMBER 27, 2010


Every now and then Mr. Disgusting goes on vacation or something and has me write up some of the daily news stories for Bloody-Disgusting, which isn’t exactly my favorite part of the job. I can’t put two words together if I don’t care about the subject, so a bit of casting on some PG-13 remake or a release date for a movie I’ve never heard of just isn’t how I like to spend my free time. But a while back (2007!), one such story was the announcement of Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre (retitled from Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre, and quite obviously so during the opening credits, which are otherwise stylish and well done), which was oddly described as a cross between Blair Witch Project, Evil Dead, and, obviously, Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I was intrigued, but a lot of movies get announced and never happen, so I forgot all about it.

Then it played at Screamfest last year, and I missed it (I forget why), but heard good things, so I was excited to check it out when I heard it was coming to DVD. And hurrah! I enjoyed it. But it’s a good thing I forgot about those ED/BWP comparisons, because I don’t have a damn clue where they came from. There’s nothing supernatural about it, it feels like a real production (as opposed to those films’ do-it-yourself charms), and, well, it’s about people getting killed on a boat. How do those woods-set low budget (and, not for nothing, superior) films even find their way into the conversation?

Anyway, it’s more like Mother’s Day mixed with Hatchet. Like the latter, we have a very large motley crew as opposed to the usual group of friends – many of the characters don’t even know anyone else, and they come in all ages – a couple of young folks, a dude that seems about 35 or so, some middle aged Asian tourists, a few old females (who are inexplicably Hollywood producers, apparently)... it’s a wonderfully diverse mix. And like Mother’s Day, our killers are a domineering mother and her sons, one of whom seems a bit mentally challenged.

And like both films, it’s got humor. Not as overt as either, but certainly funnier than Chain Saw or Hills Have Eyes (the two films it’s compared to on its own trailer – these filmmakers are hellbent on comparing their film to others!), giving the film an unexpected breezy tone. I particularly liked the obligatory cell phone moment, with the owner reacting to a wavy signal: “I got a signal! Wait, it’s gone. There it is! Nope...” It reminded me of Chevy Chase’s delivery in Fletch when he opens the Ed MacMahon envelope. “And... I lost, again. Sorry.” But Chevy didn’t get killed a few seconds later like this lady does (the guy seemingly just doing it to shut her up).

I also liked that they kept playing with our expectations. The seeming heroine who sleeps late and has to run through town and then jump on the boat to join the tour – you think she’d be a Ripley-esque asskicker, right? Nope, she becomes a depressed, mumbling loon over the course of the film (think Drusilla on Buffy). The pretty blond who takes a liking to the alpha male who may ALSO be our final girl turns out to be a royal, hateful bigot; the alpha male turns out to be gay, etc. The only exception is the French asshole guy, who remains an asshole throughout the film. Perhaps there is some Icelandic/French conflict I don’t know about.

These deeper-than-usual characterizations help make up for the film’s rather generic plot, which is basically just the usual survival stuff, albeit on a boat instead of a backwoods dungeon or isolated house. A few folks get it right away, some hide and run around, others escape only to find themselves “rescued” by someone who is in cahoots with the villains, etc. Since the characters weren’t generic, I was kind of expecting this stuff to have a little more variety to it as well, but alas, for the most part the kills and carnage are standard issue modern horror.

Except, of course, for the finale. It takes the whole movie for the “Whale” part of the plot to pay off, but it’s worth it. I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say that the film stays true to the survival horror tradition of having something besides the human killers to worry about. Also, the ending is kind of melancholy, with a sort of epilogue showing what happens to the survivor(s) and the abandoned cars of those who are dead, plus a final little “fuck you” moment for one of the killers that I quite liked. The music is also kind of sad here, it’s almost like the ending of some grim prison drama or something.

Apart from the rather bland chase n’kill elements, I also wasn’t a big fan of the film’s editing. Not only were there a lot of jump cuts, but certain scenes were needlessly confusing as a result of the editing. For example, at one point a “hero” seemingly sells out one of the others in order to aid his/her escape, but it takes a lot of mentally connecting the dots to figure out what happened, which is odd for what’s essentially a plot twist (in a movie called Whale Watching Massacre, no less). It’s not even clear how he/she managed to convey this idea to the killer in the first place, nor are we given any explanation or even a hint why he’d go along with it. And it’s not the only sort of awkward/vague moment in the film; hell, the sequence of events in which they get on the “bad” boat from their dead cruise boat is even a bit of a puzzler, like they forgot to film part of the sequence.

But Gunnar Hansen (who is actually from Iceland) might smack me for saying that, as he talks quite a bit in the making of (I think he’s the only one to be interviewed independent of the film’s production) about how prepared the director was and how unlike most low budget shoots, he shot a lot of coverage. So I dunno, maybe they just wanted to make these scenes confusing for some reason. Or Gunnar’s wrong (he’s only in the movie for like 5 minutes, after all). Or I’m just dumb. At any rate, it’s a decent enough behind the scenes look, though more insight from the director and writer would have been nice. Of interest – Hansen notes that this is only his 27th film, which is kind of impressive when you consider Chain Saw (his first) was about 35 years prior to this. Compare that to fellow Chainsaw vet Bill Moseley, who has over 30 film credits just in the past 5 years. The man is choosy! The only other extra is a trailer.

The transfer is fine, nothing that will blow your mind, but I didn’t notice any artifacting or washed out colors either. It DID seem a little soft, however, without any of the great detail I’m used to on Blu-ray. So assuming that the extras are the same, I don’t think you’d need to shell out the extra 5-10 bucks for the Blu-ray version (though on Amazon the Blu is actually cheaper, go figure). It’s also curiously lacking in the language department – there’s only the one audio track, and no subtitles of any kind. However, maybe I’m just spoiled by the Alien Blu-Ray, which I’ve been digging through over the past week – that thing has numerous language options for the subtitles for the COMMENTARY! I mean, DAMN. THAT is a complete package (also one of the most beautiful transfers I’ve ever seen).

Overall I’d recommend the film to folks who enjoy the “other” elements of these sort of movies (the setting, the characters, the music) more than they do the kills and gore. If you just want to see a bunch of creative kills or a lot of splatter, stick with Hatchet or Laid To Rest, because Harpoon is lacking in these areas. But personally, this didn’t bother me, and I liked that it was sort of “off” from start to finish. A quirky, surprisingly fun flick, nothing more, nothing less.

What say you?


The Possession Of David O'Reilly (2010)

NOVEMBER 26, 2010


One problem I had with The Last Exorcism was that they sometimes did "too good" of a job filming it, and I'd forget it was supposed to be a documentary. The Possession Of David O'Reilly (formerly The Torment) actually suffers from the opposite problem - I kept forgetting it was a straight narrative, because for some goddamn reason they filmed half of the movie in jerky POV shots, even though no one seemed to be holding a video camera (despite the fact that a camera is even introduced!).

Worse, the POV will switch mid-scene, so until the other two characters were accounted for, it became confusing whose perspective we were seeing things from. This would be a problem for ANY movie, but the biggest red mark on this movie is its muddled, pace-challenged script, so even if the entire thing was shot from a single stationary camera in the corner of the room, it would be a bit of a mess.

Perspective is an issue right from the start, however, even before the camera POV problems become apparent. The film opens on a couple who have been having trouble with an intruder, so the male has set up a few security cameras around the apartment that will turn on when motion is detected. He wants to watch the tapes, his girlfriend wants to cuddle and watch a movie... eventually they do, and chat, and then there's a knock at the door.

So far, so good, right? We meet our heroes, develop them a bit, hint at the horror movie contained within, and provide a scare. Well, the guy at the door is just their friend David, who just broke up with his girlfriend after finding out she cheated on him. And for the next 20 minutes, we're seeing everything from his perspective, with the couple more or less reduced to bit players. It's a very awkward shift, and it proves to be fatal once the "Possession" stuff starts up, because with each passing minute, the couple becomes less and less important to us. By the time they return to the "intruder" issue, I had forgotten all about it, and it turns out to be just a plot contrivance to have video proof of something David may have done earlier in the day.

There's also an extended sequence where the monsters come after David and a girl who lives upstairs. Not a bad scene on its own, but its almost comically unrelated to the rest of the film, as she's basically never mentioned again. It also doesn't quite jive with the rest of the movie, which takes a "is it in his head or is it real?" approach. If you are going with the "it's all in his head" version, we're led to believe that he is causing the others to see things too, due to them being subject to his hysteria for an extended period of time. But he didn't spend any time with the neighbor, so how would she be "starting to believe" the monsters were real, when she never had the opportunity to do so?

But if they ARE real, then why can't they come out in the day time? Why are they so focused on just these specific people? It's one thing to leave a movie up to interpretation, but in order to do that successfully, you have to make sure all bases are covered, so that either answer is 100% plausible given the information we have. In this movie's case, neither really makes any sense.

There are some good moments sprinkled throughout, however, making it at least a decent enough time-killer. I particularly liked the "Makeshift Ouija" scene, where a glass moves around on a newspaper, spelling out words in a "more or less" fashion. So there are extra, or missing letters, but if you sound out the syllables that the glass focuses on, you get the word. It allows for the otherwise standard scene to hold a bit of suspense for once; I hate in real Ouija scenes where the thing is spelling out, like, SUSAN, and no one seemingly catches on until the final letter, like: "S...U...S...A...N! Oh no! Susan!"

I also liked the art that David drew (I assume), which reminded me of Clive Barker's pencil sketches. And while they never come out and say the name of the game, there's something charming about the couple playing Gears Of War together - I remember trying to play with my wife once, and deciding then and there that Lego Star Wars (or any of the other off-shoots) or Rock Band would be the alpha and omega of the co-op gaming part of our marriage from now on. Bonus points for using the real game soundtrack too - I notice in a lot of movies they will show a real game but toss in some generic sounds over it, or use the very distinct Donkey Kong sounds over some random made up game. It gave the film a bit of realism at an early point; too bad the writers totally botched it not too long afterward.

The only extra is a trailer, which is odd since IFC usually provides some decent extras and the director had done a lot of interviews for the film prior to release, so it's not like he's shy or that he doesn't WANT to talk about the film. Perhaps some explanation of the film's more muddled moments (or why they changed the title to something that makes it sound like it's just some Asylum knockoff) could have helped matters. However even if I totally understood the ending and other moments of the film, it would still be a misfire due to the completely unnecessary POV shots that dominate the second half, and the fact that the people who I thought were our main characters had the bulk of their development confined to the opening scenes.

What say you?


Crippled Creek (2005)

NOVEMBER 25, 2010


I know what I'm thankful for, but I'm curious, on this Thanksgiving Day... are you all thankful that I spend part of my holiday watching nonsense like Crippled Creek? I hope so. Either way, I'm thankful that I caught the movie at all, since it's about to expire from the Instant service (this Wednesday, I believe), and thus I would had to have rented the disc and run the risk of sitting through a commentary or making of that would annoy me even further than the movie itself did.

Of course, I don't know if the disc has any bonus features, because it seems this movie has gone under the radar even more than usual for these sort of things. The IMDb page offers no "DVD details", and I cannot find a single review of the disc proper (IMDb's external reviews offers two links, one of which doesn't work and the other makes no mention of the DVD's details at all). Though I am sort of curious how bad the disc itself looks, since it looked like ass on Netflix. Luckily, you can watch the film at its "native resolution" (native for the stream, not the original film), and it was no smaller than usual, so I have to assume writer/producer/DP/director Hans Hartman either didn't know what he was doing when he compressed the film for DVD, or he used a shitty camera to begin with.

Shockingly, the sound is even worse. I don't know if they had a microphone at all; perhaps they just recorded everything with the camera's mic, regardless of how far the camera was from the actors (a boom operator IS listed, for the record). But if you watch the film, prepare yourself to not be able to make out half of what these idiots are saying during a few scenes. You'll be able to pick out a few key words and use their body language to tell what's being said, but it's pretty far from fully intelligible start to finish. Again - I'm 100% supportive of folks making movies on their own seemingly to teach themselves. But when they charge for it, it becomes a bit of an insult. Learn from your mistakes, and make another movie. It's like baking! If you screw up the recipe you don't shrug and sell it at the bake sale anyway - you throw it away or feed it to the dog. Folks need to do the same for their amateur productions that can barely be considered intelligible (except don't feed the tape to your dog. Just upload the film on Youtube*).

Anyway, it could look and sound like a 70 mm print of Lawrence of Arabia and still be a pretty terrible movie. It's the same sort of usual shit - three girls go off to the woods for a relaxing getaway, they meet up with a couple of local boys, party, and get killed. Well, make that: party, tell ghost stories, bicker, walk around the next day, party some more, tell ANOTHER ghost story, party a bit more, then get killed. This movie takes FOREVER to get going, something you will probably figure out from the opening titles, which run about 3.5 minutes, and are actually kind of confusing - they split the title and the name across two cards, so you'll see a name on screen but what they actually DID (i.e. producer, FX, music) has already passed. The padding is so excessive I actually started wondering if this was supposed to be a joke - at one point they fade from one 10 second shot of a girl sweeping the porch to... another, wider angle of the girl sweeping the porch (another 10-15 seconds here). We're also treated to not one but two scenes of the girls going to the bathroom in the woods, more or less in real time.

Worse, there is no indication that they're even in a horror movie until the first kill. No POV shots from the killer, no "our car broke down let's see if anyone's home in this weird house" type stuff, nothing. They just chill out for an hour and finally one of them gets killed mid-coitus. From then on it gets a bit better, because it's just a lot of running and yelling, plus our killer is apparently a cannibal, which is under-utilized in the realm of throwaway motives. I mean, there's definitely a debt owed to Texas Chain Saw here, but it follows the slasher playbook more than the sort of survival horror that Chain Saw is. However, if Hartman thinks for one minute that anyone will be fooled by the "revelation" that the forest ranger is actually the bad guy, NOT the weird hermit, then he needs a helmet. Hilariously, the movie is so blurry I couldn't really tell them apart anyway, so the twist "worked" in the sense that, yes, I wasn't sure which one was the killer when they finally faced off at the end.

The soundtrack also hurts the film. The songs aren't too bad on their own, but they are wildly inappropriate for the scenes they play over. The only exception is a mopey singer-songwriter thing playing over a scene of our heroine crying about the fact that her boyfriend is back at home seemingly with another girl. Totally fits the scene... unfortunately it starts about a minute too early, over the shot of our first kill (the aforementioned mid-coitus one). It might have worked if the editor (guess who?) knew what he was doing and put the breakup scene BEFORE the kill scene - it would have made the kill more of a surprise. We cut from the sad girl to the happy one in the throes of passion, the song continues... and WHAM! The guy gets axed. Instead he does it the other way - we finally get a kill scene that comes out of nowhere and has no build up, and most of it is drowned out by some Howie Day wannabe lamenting his romantic woes. Whatever, Hartman.

The movie does have one saving grace (well two, if you count the surprising amount of nudity in this no budget production, and the girls are actually attractive as well), which occurs late in the film, during a typical heated discussion over whether or not they go back to find a friend or put their own safety first and get out of there. Beat for beat it plays like normal, but the dialogue (thankfully mostly intelligible for once) elevates it into pure inanity. The guy (Paul Logan from Mega Piranha - the first instance of someone's career actually improving once they secured a role in an Asylum production?) is the one who wants to just get the hell out of there, and after arguing a bit, finally puts his foot down: "Listen bitch, the only thing I care about is getting home to my wife!" HEY-O! This of course changes the direction of the argument, as she cries about the place they were going to get together and that she loves him (they just met the day before, mind you), and he actually "goes there" and says "That's just what we call pillow talk, baby." Then her other friend comes out of nowhere and whacks him over the head. It's pretty sublime; I laughed at the whole scene for about 5 minutes straight and even rewound it, which is a pain to do with the Netflix instant player on Xbox but worth it to hear it all again.

Oh, and the part early on when the girls get pulled over by a ranger whose jeep sports a blue/red flashing light that was seemingly made in After Effects. Again, it's almost like they tell you right up front that you're about to watch a piece of shit. They didn't try to hide it at all.

This movie also offers what I believe is a first - end credits sponsors? As soon as they start (and, it should be no surprise, they're overlong - Hartman is aware that a movie can be 80 or even 70 minutes long, right?) they run up the left side, which usually means "blooper reel!". But instead, we just get graphics of logos for things like Sobe Adrenaline and local pizza places. Like "Oh shit, we forgot to put these in the actual movie! Quick, highlight them in the credits!" Of course, I'm sure each and every business represented would have preferred a casual shot of their product during appropriate scenes (i.e. a Sobe on a store shelf or drink machine). Instead, now they're directly and clearly associated with it. Suckers!

What say you?

*Hah! It IS on Youtube in its entirety! I only linked the trailer below as usual, but it's there if you look - and seemingly legal, it has advertisements. Enjoy?


The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972)

NOVEMBER 24, 2010


Plot-wise and kill scene-wise (but title aside), The Case of the Bloody Iris (aka Perché Quelle Strane Gocce Di Sangue Sul Corpo Di Jennifer?, or What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer's Body?) is not a particularly memorable Giallo - the motive for the plot isn't goofy or insane enough to stick out, the kills are all rather bland, and the rare stalk/chase scenes aren't exactly top notch. However, it's one of the most entertaining ones ever if you, like me, have an affinity for out-of-nowhere misogynist dialogue, or just plain goofy lines like "A pretty girl is never ridiculous."

Last week a reader bemoaned my "sexist" usage of the word "broad" when describing a particularly stupid female character, which I was a bit taken back by - I never thought of the word as sexist, my understanding was it meant, well, a particularly stupid female, and thus no more sexist that using "asshole" to describe an idiotic male. Then I did some digging around and discovered it's also another word for "a woman of ill repute" (aka a hooker), so I guess it's a regional thing (like how "bloody" is a swear in the UK but not here). But anyway, if she's still reading, I would urge her not to watch this movie, as both the male AND female characters in this film have particularly poor opinions of the fairer sex (including one referring to another as a "broad", go figure). The police captain in particular is pretty offensive, claiming that a woman who stays married to an abusive man must enjoy it, amongst other colorful "theories" that even I was a bit offended by.

But what makes it kind of amusing (to me) is that the females are no better - often berating one another, calling each other "whore" and what not, and NOT being offended when the males make their sexist remarks. The ultimate has to be when one thanks her boyfriend for being patient with her, and he replies "Don't thank me just yet, wait til I try to make it with you - then you'll see what a bastard I am." Does anyone in this movie have a healthy view of themselves or others?

It's also amusing thanks to the character of Ramsey, who has seemingly wandered in from a Police Academy movie or something. He botches a surveillance job because he decides to make a sandwich (in his car), and files away drinking glasses under B (for "bar materials"), much to his boss' confusion. At one point his commanding officer asks him if he ever considered the fire department instead, and he asks if you need to be intelligent to join (again with the low self esteem!). Basically he does or says something goofy and random every time he appears, which is often. There's also a photographer guy who acts like Woody Allen - he's only in two or three scenes, but he makes an impression.

The opening scene is also hilarious, when a girl is stabbed in the elevator and three folks waiting for it discover her body. They each let out a gasp, but then instantly just start wondering if she lived there and if anyone recognized her - no panic, no "let's call the police!" - they sit and look at the body and murmur as if it was something they were watching on TV. And the laughs even start before that - watch how angrily everyone presses the button for their floor.

It has a minor payoff in the climax, but one thing I didn't like was how similar two of the girls looked, making it a bit confusing for me as to which was which in the early parts of the movie, before I had gotten familiar with them. There's also a lot of stuff in the beginning that suggests a more complicated movie - a cult of some sort, a weird bar where a naked woman challenges the male customers to last three minutes with her in the ring (a challenge we see play out in real time), a guy with an aversion to the sight of blood... none of these things have any bearing on the plot after about a half hour or so. It also becomes more confined as it goes - most of the second half of the film takes place in the apartment building, though there is a brief little chase in a junkyard, furthering my curiosity why there hasn't been a full blown junkyard set slasher movie yet (that Machined shit don't count).

Blue Underground has delivered a really nice transfer for the film, but got a bit skimpy on the extras. There's a 'bio' for director Giuliano Carnimeo (under his pseudonym Anthony Ascott) that's actually just an incomplete filmography, the lousy trailer, and an "alternate stabbing scene" that's actually just severely edited, making the sequence more confusing than it was in the finished film. It also removes the shot of Ramsey making his sandwich, so I have no use for this whatsoever. Supposedly there are some versions that remove around four minutes of the film - this one scene does not account for that much (there's about 30 seconds' worth of difference, if that), so some details about what was removed (the DVD is of the full 94 minute version) would have been interesting.

So if you're easily offended by characters who have no respect for one another (or themselves in many cases), I would skip this one, but otherwise I think you'll find it's one of the most enjoyably odd Giallos out there, albeit not for the usual reasons, and thus highly recommended (it's certainly one of the more "Grindhouse"-y entries), especially if you're a De Palma fan, as it seems to have been an influence on Dressed To Kill (oh yeah, lot of nudity too, if that's your thing).

What say you?


ThanksKilling (2009)

NOVEMBER 23, 2010


I’ve had my eye on ThanksKilling for quite a while now, ever since it popped up on Netflix Instant earlier this year. But I’ve held off, wanting to wait for the Thanksgiving holiday to make sure I was in the right holiday spirit (it’s a good thing I never noticed the scant 66 minute running time – I surely would have lost my resolve when looking for something under 80 minutes). But I urge like-minded folks to check it out ASAP; holiday relevance or not, it’s a grand old time.

Now, the movie is stupid and bad, but intentionally so, and not in an annoying way (at least, not to me). I mean, the thing opens on a shot of a woman’s bare breast, and then they zoom out a bit so we can see her in full as she runs around a forest in a (loose fitting) pilgrim costume. After a minute or so, she stops, and then a turkey puppet appears, says “Nice tits, bitch!”, and chops her head off with a golden axe. SLAM CUT to credits. I mean, if that doesn’t win you over, you might as well shut the movie off right then and there.

Given the limitations of the turkey puppet (we never even see its entire body), there isn’t a lot of action in the film – I think he only kills like 5 people in the whole thing. The scenes that don’t involve talking killer turkeys are fairly worthless, but again – the movie’s only 66 minutes long with credits. You’re never more than 10 minutes (at most) from another turkey scene, and they are total gold. His one-liners are all either profane or punny, the type of humor perfectly suited for cheap turkey puppets. But there’s some dry/relatively subtle humor as well, such as when one of our heroes’ spaced out fathers (dressed as a turkey himself) invites him in for a drink, and then they just cut to the two of them sitting at the table nursing hot tea.

The characters also provide a bit of humor. They’re all idiots (they don’t even notice when the turkey ‘impersonates’ a human being), and sort of weird – I love that the star quarterback guy acts like a 7 year old asking a girl to be his girlfriend. And one of them refers to the killer as a “cock-blocking turkey!”, which is just hilarious. Unlike some of these things, everyone seems to be fully aware at the type of movie they are making, and thus the horrid dialogue and bad acting seems like part of the point, not an unfortunate drawback of their low budget and limited resources.

One movie it reminded me of was Cannibal! The Musical, but that’s not a slight – I love that movie. There’s a music number, a ridiculous “history lesson”, etc... if you dug that one, you should enjoy this one. One key difference – Cannibal’s costume designer was way more on the ball. I was amazed to discover that the film was supposed to be set in New England during November, since everyone just wears typical summer clothes. None of the characters are particularly attractive, so it’s not like we were jonesing for them to be in revealing clothing – put on some coats, goddammit! But really – who cares? It’s a movie about a talking killer turkey. And a fun one at that.

Oh, and the end promises a sequel in space, which is pretty much the best news I’ve heard all month.

I hope it stays on Netflix forever, because I plan to make this part of my annual Thanksgiving viewing (though it won’t be replacing End of Days, of course). As I mentioned in my column for BadassDigest, there aren’t exactly a surplus of Thanksgiving themed horror movies, and unlike Home Sweet Home, ThanksKilling actually uses the holiday for part of its plot, making it a better choice (it’s also shorter, so you can get back to eating pie).

What say you?


Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

NOVEMBER 22, 2010


If you read every review (and you shouldn’t – I recycle a lot of what I say and don’t want anyone catching on), you might recall that I had a ticket to see Something Wicked This Way Comes at the Arclight over the summer, only to screw up; driving to the wrong Arclight and missing it. So I was delighted to see that the New Beverly was showing it, since I’d rather see it there anyway (Arclight, sadly, no longer bothers to provide a quality experience, i.e. they don’t monitor the theaters for cell phone users/talkers).

However, my anticipation was built up even more, so I wasn’t as impressed with the film as I expected to be (it had come highly recommended from a few friends). I liked the story/script, and Jonathan Pryce was terrific, but Jack Clayton’s direction was very TV movie-like, which kept it from ever being really exciting. Everything was very matter of fact; there was no sense of dread or urgency to Pryce’s grand plans. I wasn’t even aware I was watching the climax to the film until I realized that it had been about 90 minutes and thus it HAD to be.

Disney also should have shelled out more for the town set, because it looks pretty fake to me. A lot of the early parts of the movie reminded me of Lady In White, which was an independent, low budget horror film, and THAT film managed to depict a period setting in a very natural and believable way – why the hell can’t DISNEY do the same? I kept expecting a Universal shuttle bus to drive by with tourists taking pictures before they saw the King Kong attraction.

I was also baffled by the casting of Jason Robards as the father to the adolescent hero. He’s a great actor, yes, but even with the fact that his age is a plot point, I think they went overboard with it – he’s old enough to be the kid’s grandfather. It’s hard to really buy into the plot of them not being close or having much in common when the age difference is so vast – why WOULD they have anything in common? It doesn’t help that the kids are unusually young-looking – the characters (and the actors playing them) are 12 or 13, but I thought they looked more like 8.

But again, my issues stemmed from the execution, not so much the design. The concept was actually pretty awesome, with Pryce assembling a circus comprised of folks whose souls he had claimed. We see a few of his “collections”, such as the formerly beautiful old hag teacher who desires her looks back (and once she gets them, loses her eyesight – d’oh!), and I bet if the film was a hit there would have been some sort of prequel where we see him collecting some of the other “freaks” in his entourage – I bet there were some cool stories in there.

However, my favorite scene was just a faceoff between Pryce and Robards, set inside a library hallway. Pryce wants Robards to tell him where the kids are, and he offers to make him younger. But with each passing moment, he raises the age he will revert him to, starting at 30 and ending somewhere around 50. As he ticks off each age, he (usually) explains the benefits of being that age again – apparently 32 is the prime year of a man’s life (2 to go!) and one should have a family somewhere around 38... it’s like that Five for Fighting song “100 Years” but with a crazed Jonathan Pryce “singing” and tearing up a book as he does. Great stuff. Interestingly, when I went home I watched the previous night’s episode of The Walking Dead, which featured a character (Dale) discussing time and how his father taught him the importance of not wasting time trying to conquer it, which is a similar lesson one could take from this film.

I was also tickled by the main kid’s abandonment issues. At least three times during the film he mentions being ditched or not wanting to ditch someone else. In one instance, he and his dad are chatting outside and then he goes to bed (it seems pretty late, though another problem with the movie is that it seems no one bothered to rent lights), and Robards says he’s going to stay outside and finish his cigar, to which the kid says “I don’t want to ditch you.” Kid, it’s HIS HOUSE. You can’t ditch someone in their own house!

And, yeah, it’s a Disney horror film, which is automatically worth some interest. I was surprised at some of the stuff they got away with (a decapitated head, a creepy, potentially murderous ginger kid, etc), and even though it turns out to be a friggin nightmare, there’s a great scene where our two heroes are besieged by spiders, one that probably freaked the hell out of the 12 or 13 kids who saw the movie during its theatrical release.

Nice James Horner score too. It’s easy to forget he used to put effort into his compositions. Now it’s all female choir voices and everything sounding vaguely like Braveheart.

As far as movies about circuses that feature Royal Dano go, it’s one of the better ones, but I couldn’t help but think that a more imaginative director (Tim Burton in his prime, or Guillermo Del Toro) could make a really kick ass version, retaining the “moral of the story” but improving the sense of mystery and doing a better job of visually depicting the effect that Dark’s carnival had on the town. Come on, Guillermo, add it to your list of projects that gets everyone excited until you announce you're doing something else instead!

What say you?


Eye Of The Cat (1969)

NOVEMBER 21, 2010


Usually it's a fairly even split between folks who have and folks who haven't seen the movie that plays at midnight on Saturdays at the New Beverly, but Eye Of The Cat was unseen by just about everyone in the crowd (the star of the film's son was one of the few exceptions). Hell, even Phil hadn't even seen it, and he programmed it! That's what happens when the releasing studio (in this case, Universal) opts to release multiple versions of shit like Meet The Goddamn Fockers instead of making sure all of their library gets ported to the standard format. Come on guys, stop airbrushing your movie posters and get working on something that matters.

Because this movie is a total delight. It doesn't offer much in the way of horror (the body count is, I think, one), but it makes up for it in interesting characters, a wacky but still sort of laid back premise, and cats. Dozens and dozens of cats. Apparently there is a TV edit that inexplicably cuts all of the excess feline and leaves just a single cat in the film (with reshoots to try to smooth over the obvious plot holes this would cause, an attempt that I understand was quite unsuccessful). But really, if that's all you can get your hands on, I think most of the movie's charm would still be intact.

First and foremost is Michael Sarrazin as Wylie (subtle), a carefree player who is roped into trying to trick his aunt into signing over her entire will to him (and then killing her) by Kassia (the drop dead gorgeous Gayle Hunnicutt), a scheming hairdresser who counts the aunt as one of her clients. It seems the will's current iteration leaves everything to the cats, so it's not exactly hard for her to change her mind, just as long as Wylie stays with her until she dies (she's lonely, duh). The great thing about Sarrazin is that he seemingly has no interest in this or any other plot of the film - he's just sort of having fun and doing whatever he feels like.

For example, at one point Kassia and one of his many lovers begin a, ahem, catfight in the bathroom of a swinger's bar (this scene rivals Raw Force's party scene for sheer random awesomeness), and he tries, very lazily, to break it up, getting hit and tossed around himself in the process, but pretty much laughs the entire time. Some of his laid-back attitude reminded me of Michael Moriarty in The Stuff or It's Alive 3, so you know I found him to be quite entertaining. There's also a great bit where he's macking on Kassia and they dip below frame, and then she reaches up and shuts off the light. Then, the kicker, he reaches up and puts the light back on! This guy just plain rules.

However he does have one flaw - he suffers from Ailurophobia, the fear of cats (he recounts the reason why early on - and then tosses a nearby cat into an electric heater of some sort). As a cat owner who finds his cats to be the most lovable creatures in the world, this made me quite sad, but at least the movie backs up his fears by featuring some of the least cuddly cats of all time. They hiss, sneak around, claw viciously at each other, etc... but they're also sort of the good guys in the movie! They are very protective of the aunt, and their "evil" ways are seemingly born out of their desire to keep these no-gooders from killing her (that or taking their money, I guess).

There's also a weird sexual vibe running through the movie. Kassia meets Wylie while he's with another girl (he's naked except for boots), his brother comes into the bathroom while he's bathing and pokes him (and then dries his back), etc. Also, the aunt seemingly wants to shag him, which, even though we learn that they aren't blood relatives, is still kind of creepy. Again, it's not exactly action packed (the biggest scare scene involves the aunt rolling down a hill in her wheelchair), and Joseph Stefano's script could have been tightened a bit, but this sort of stuff keeps the movie entertaining start to finish.

I have no idea how to obtain a copy (apparently it was hard to find even in the VHS heyday), but at least a beautiful film print exists. If your local indie house takes requests, I urge you to suggest Eye Of The Cat. You won't be disappointed. And if you are, you probably will be too busy with the Fockers to tell me.

What say you?


Plaguers (2008)

NOVEMBER 20, 2010


I gotta hand it to Brad and Josephina Sykes, the husband and wife team responsible for Plaguers – when they set out to rip off Alien, they go at it full throttle. I mean, any movie that combines spaceships and horror (instead of space battles) is automatically compared to Alien just out of traditional habit, but they make sure such comparisons are warranted. Distress signal being investigated? Check. Two male crew members more concerned with their pay cut than anything else? Check. Airlock kill at the end? Check. An android crew member? Check! Though, he’s more Bishop than Ashe (and he’s played by Lance Henriksen somewhat-look-alike Steve Railsback), so at least they were going a bit outside the box there.

They also take a page from Carpenter (they say Assault on Precinct 13 on the commentary and making of, but the audience’s minds are more likely to drift towards Ghosts Of Mars), as the film concerns a single location (the ship) and the banding together of enemies against a common enemy, in this case the plaguers, which are the zombie/mutant things that folks turn into once they die or get sprayed by a green ball of something called a Thanatos. In fact, the most original thing about the movie is that the “bad” thing is already on board with them – the “space pirates” just knock it loose to kick off the horror part of the story.

So you might be thinking “why have the space pirates at all, then?” Well, did I mention they’re SEXY space pirates? Yep, all four of them are hot chicks (one in particular, Sadie, I was quite smitten with, and luckily she lasts a while before getting her mouth torn off), wearing “space” nurse suits that resemble a slutty Mooby’s uniform more than anything else. They’re also horny, so most of them almost instantly tackle the nearest male crew member. I kept wondering if this was some sort of porn movie where they edited out all the sex scenes (they’re not horny enough to show anything good, unfortunately), because it was so goddamn stupid and cheap looking.

Then, finally, someone turns mutant, and from then on it’s not TOO bad. No one ever manages to actually kill a plaguer, nor do the plaguers have the best success rate in changing someone to their kind, so you get a lot of fights. Clunky, awkward fights, but fights all the same, with plentiful gore and goo splashing/spraying around. The makeup effects on the plaguers is pretty good too (well, most of them; there’s a “full plaguer” at the end that just looks like the “MATT DAAAMON” version of the Metaluna Mutant), and everything seems to be practical instead of CGI, so that’s to be commended.

Well, almost everything – the occasional exteriors of the ship flying around or whatever are sub-Star Trek, and yes I mean the 1960s one (before they fixed the effects for HD broadcast). Obviously they couldn’t afford to build a real spaceship and fly into outer space to film part of the movie like they did for Armageddon and Firefly (right?), but I was actually kind of aghast how bad these things looked. Especially when the model of the ship seemed to be pretty big, though we only see like 2-3 corridors and about as many rooms on the ship itself. One of the more annoying aspects of the movie is that it’s impossible to tell where anyone is in relation to anyone else, and they never seem to really go anywhere. The characters are seemingly running back and forth through the same hallways over and over – they should have at least redressed a hallway to make it look a bit different, or something. It reminded me of one of those video games where they show you a whole big city but never let you actually explore it, forcing you to stay in one little block with like, cardboard boxes or overturned cars “blocking” you.

It’s also one of those movies where they show you a key scene of the climax right at the beginning, but don’t pay it off in any way. Folks, if you want to do this, watch something like Casino to see how to do it right. Don’t just toss an “exciting” scene at the top to get some early action in there, all it does is spoil later plot developments (i.e. who gets turned into plaguers). Especially here – if you’re so hellbent on ripping off Alien, follow its lead some more and make the audience get drawn into the world before springing the monsters.

Not too surprisingly, we learn on the commentary that this scene was the request of those ever-pesky executive producers, who indeed wanted to have some action at the beginning of the film (not seeming to care that it’s just literally a few shots that we see again later – why not just loop the scene for 90 minutes and claim the film offers non-stop action?). The Sykes also tell us that the sets were designed for another movie and they wrote the movie to fit them, which is of course, always the best way to write a movie. But otherwise you won’t learn anything of use on the commentary, they mainly just ramble on and on about a bunch of “no shit” concepts, like “it’s so important to have pre-production” and “working with people who know what they’re doing makes things so much easier”. No, I like to hire a bunch of 5 year olds and toss them onto a set mere seconds after getting the greenlight. Railsback is also there, but all he does is occasionally agree with whatever they’re saying.

The making of is slightly more insightful (plus they tell you about the “existing set” thing, making the commentary entirely worthless), and it’s hilarious to watch because you see Josephina calling cut right after Brad does on several occasions, as if his “cut!” wasn’t strong enough. I would divorce my wife on the spot if she did that. Who wears the pants at the Sykes household? My guess? Whoever paid for their copy of Alien.

What say you?

P.S. The best part of the movie has to be when they “barricade” a sliding door (with a flimsy gurney no less!). And it actually seems to hold the Plaguers back for a while! Then they finally get the door open and just casually push the gurney away. It’s breathtakingly idiotic.


After Midnight (1989)

NOVEMBER 19, 2010


I was in the mood for a slasher, so I looked in the slasher section on Netflix and found After Midnight, which claimed to be about a professor with unusual means teaching a class on fear at his own home. So I figured it would be like The Fear, except with him in the Morty role, and, you know, hopefully GOOD. But that turned out to be the wraparound (and not really slasher at all) to a rather dull anthology movie. Five yard penalty, Netflix.

Now, one could assume that it was my disappointment that kept me from enjoying it, but it was only the first story (the one that made me realize it was an anthology) that I enjoyed, since it had a ridiculous setup and a pretty hilarious finale, with a guy accidentally cutting off his wife’s head in front of all of their friends after her idiotic prank went poorly. It’s gloriously inane, and had me thinking the movie might not be too bad after all.

Then the second story started, and it pretty much all went to hell. Four girls get lost in downtown LA, run out of gas, and then get menaced by a crazed killer and his three dogs. So it’s sort of like a female Judgment Night (there’s even a climb the fence scene!), except with Denis Leary’s lapdogs replaced by actual dogs, and also not particularly suspenseful. And this is really damning, because I myself have been in the same situation as the girls! A couple months ago, I was downtown for a movie (LA film fest) and my gas light came on. The gas station near the movie theater was inexplicably closed (at 10 pm!) so I started driving around looking for another, but due to the one ways and generally annoying downtown LA layout, I got further from the city and into the less desirable part, with my gas supply running ever lower (it was also sweltering hot and thus I had to shut off the AC to conserve gas, adding to my anger). Luckily I found one as the damn thing started to sputter on fumes, instead of running afoul of any axe wielding psychos, but still, the basic scenario should have given me some sort of personal connection to the goings on, right? However I found it the most tedious of the lot. I’ll give it a point or two for killing off the nice girl instead of the random redhead (the other two were recognizable – one was Final Chapter’s goddess Judie Aronson, the other was Jennifer from Dream Warriors, sans cigarette burns on her arm – so they were safe).

The third one is a little better, though it hilariously takes place in downtown LA as well. Part of the appeal of an anthology is the ability to have a bunch of different locales in a single movie, it’s rare to see one literally take place a block away from one of the other stories (not counting stuff like Trick R Treat where the stories are entwined). I half expected to see the girls running past our new heroine as she entered her office. Anyway, this one’s about the night shift operator of an answering service (luckily, part of the point is that the business model no longer makes sense with everyone getting cell phones, keeping it from being too dated a scenario), and of course she gets a creepy caller.

Here’s the thing – phone calls aren’t really that scary when you know where the caller is (we see him at a phone booth, and we know her building has a guard to boot). So until the guy actually shows up, it’s a total snoozefest. It would have been far more interesting if he was calling from the building the whole time or something, but instead he’s out and about, and by the time he DOES show up there, it’s almost over. It also ends before the two even face off. I’m all for a downer ending, but there’s gotta be a moment of triumph for the heroine first, or else it just doesn’t carry any weight.

Then the wraparound goes completely off the rails, with a girl being sucked into a wind vortex of some sort and a stop motion skeleton chasing the “main character” around through all of the other stories (like, she opens a door and finds herself in the office building from the phone service story, after seeing the wife’s disembodied head from the first one). And thus, of course, we find out it’s all been a dream. Throughout the movie she’s been sort of weirded out and even clairvoyant, and now we know why – she’s apparently stuck in some sort of time loop (in a dream) reliving all of this over and over. Yeah, awesome. This movie actually managed to make me annoyed that a big chunk of stuff I didn’t even like didn’t happen.

I mean, it’s WATCHABLE, and I like that (save for the dream nonsense) it’s the rare anthology featuring only real-world dangers instead of supernatural elements, but it’s just so painfully average and generic. None of the stories have twists, none are particularly exciting, and it doesn’t even offer any gore to make up for the other faults. Plus, it doesn’t even really live up to its own concept – none of the people in the segments are afraid of anything, and nothing that happens in the wraparound segments really play on the students’ fears. The crazy professor is kind of interesting, because he apparently feels no fear (in the film’s best moment, he gets set on fire but rather than scream and run around, he just keeps attacking some other dude). Ultimately, the only thing it really offers for entertainment is seeing future star Marg Helgenberger slumming in a junky horror movie (she’s the phone operator). Also, Pamela Segall, best known as the voice of Bobby Hill, plays the main girl’s best friend in the wraparounds, and you can hear a bit of Bobby in a few of her whinier moments. If that’s enough for you to sit through a 92 minute movie on Netflix (with a fairly lo-res transfer to boot), I wholly recommend After Midnight.

And who is responsible for this nonsense? Jim and Ken Wheat, who were behind the oddly compelling Silent Scream, and wrote the awesome Pitch Black, but also were two of the writers behind NOES 4. Oh, and a fucking Ewok movie (Battle for Endor). I’m sure they are nice guys, but I think I will start lowering my expectations quite a bit the next time I see their names involved with a film.

What say you?


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